247: Covering the Basics – Running a Business During a Pandemic

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An image of a desk and the title of the 247th episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Covering the Basics.'

Welcome to episode 247 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork talks about how we’re approaching the COVID–19 outbreak personally and with our businesses.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Moses Balian about contractors, employees, and building a team. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Covering the Basics 

Oof. These past few weeks have been interesting to say the least.

Not only is it confusing, stressful, and scary personally, it can add a whole level of uncertainty when you’re running a business.

There isn’t a right or a wrong way to approach content during this time, but in this episode, Bjork talks about the ways we’re approaching business during the COVID–19 outbreak.

One thing we really want you to remember during this strange time is that the content you’re creating is helpful, it is making a difference, and it is bringing people value. You can serve your audience during tough times – and this episode should give you some ideas on how to do that.

A quote from Bjork Ostrom’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'It’s better to temporarily scale back on some of the work in order to cover the basics.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why it’s important to think first about the essentials
  • What content can look like during tough times
  • How to avoid disastertunity


If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: Hey there friends, Bjork here and as I’m sure is the case with all of you, one of the things that is on our collective mind here as the Food Blogger Pro and also here at the Ostrom Household is the Coronavirus, COVID–19. This virus that is spreading throughout the globe. And we do have a global audience here. And one of the things that I find amazing is how we are all in this in the same way. I was just reading the other day, the Cebu City, Philippines local paper, the SunStar, I was reading it online, Lindsay and I spent a year in the Philippines. And so every once in a while I check in on that newspaper and read what they’re doing and what they’re up to. I was thinking about the people of Cebu in the Philippines during this time. And it’s striking how similar the articles and the content are for the Philippines newspapers when compared to the Star Tribune here in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Bjork Ostrom: We are all dealing with this and it’s real and it’s scary and we don’t have all the information and every day it’s changing. And it felt right to have a conversation about that, to share a little bit about how we are approaching that both personally within our life and then also within the businesses because that’s what we talk about here on this podcast. We talk about publishing content online, we talk about blogging, we talk about online business. But before we get into that, I just want to acknowledge that this isn’t a business first time.

Bjork Ostrom: This isn’t a thing that we should be thinking about first and foremost. We should be thinking about the people who are most effected by this, we should be thinking about our families, and we should be thinking about what we can do to contribute to slowing this down. And as you all know, that means staying inside, distancing yourself, making sacrifices for a relatively short period of time. We don’t know how long it’ll be, but in the grand scheme of things, it is a relatively short period of time and that will have a big impact on other people’s lives.

Bjork Ostrom: So I wanted to take today’s podcast episode to talk a little bit about that. And I actually have four different topics that I’m going to cover that all have to do with how we are thinking about this and my hope is that as you hear how we are thinking about it, that you can take something away from that and apply it to how you’re thinking about it. So before we get into it, a couple of things. Number one, I just wanted to mention and to send out a thank you to those of you who maybe you’re listening to this podcast or maybe you know somebody who is this person who are serving on the front lines, whether that be at a business that is an essential business that is continuing to stay open or a healthcare professional. Lindsay’s dad is a family practice doctor, so he’s on the front lines doing these. Lindsay’s sister’s a nurse. Same for her, she has a patient that she’s taken care of who has Coronavirus. And these are people who are serving. They’re sacrificing in a way that is really generous because they’re exposing themselves to this.

Bjork Ostrom: And so I want to say thank you. If you are one of those people or if you know some of those people and also people who are working front lines at these stores that stay open, the grocery stores and gas stations or whatever it might be, we want to say thank you to those people who have those essential jobs to keep things running and to keep people healthy. And then also, a reminder to take this seriously. I know that the people who listen to this podcast are smart, sacrificial good people and so this might not be many of you, but maybe it will be some of you that need a reminder that it’s important to take the guidance that we are getting seriously to whether it’ll be social distancing, staying at home, doing whatever you can to isolate for again, a period of time.

Bjork Ostrom: We don’t know how long that will be, but for, hopefully, short and especially in the grand scheme of things, relatively short period of time in order to stop the spread of this terrible virus. So those two things are important to point out before we get into it. Like I said, we’re going to be covering some things that tie into work in business, but are also, as you know, so personal as well and we have four different things, four different topics that I want to cover. These include the conversations that we’re having with our team, as well as conversations that we’re having here between Lindsay and I, and my hope is that you can take something away here.

Bjork Ostrom: So here’s how we’re approaching our work, our businesses, our blog during this time. Number one, cover the basics. This actually doesn’t have anything to do with work, but I think it’s one of the most important things to start with. The first way is actually not think about work. The first thing we’re thinking about is covering the basics and that means getting as much sleep as we can, eating healthy and for you, eating healthy if that food is available, drinking lots of water, digitally connecting with family and friends, taking time away from screens and computer and news.

Bjork Ostrom: Essentially it’s the basics, the foundation that you need in order to feel solid as a person. These are the essentials. These are the basics. And we need to think first about how we can cover those and if we find that we’re struggling to cover those things that we need to make sacrifices if we can with the work that we’re doing. It’s better to temporarily scale back on some of the work, in order to cover the basics. And on the podcast we talk a lot about playing the long term game and this is a season that’s a great example of how important it is to focus on three years, not three months. And if we get too caught up in the day to day rat race, if we think, “Aah! The things that I’m working on, the work that I’ve done, it’s going to be impacted. I’m going to see things go down over the next few months or maybe this year.”

Bjork Ostrom: We’re focusing on short term, but what’s important is to think about longterm here. And if we a shift too much thought into growing and building and continuing at the same pace that we were before during the season where realistically it’s not healthy for us to do that and then we risk longterm burnout and we risk downside. The risk is greater than the reward. One of the things that I shared with our team recently is that, the reality is for this season, however long it lasts, we don’t know is that, if we usually operate at like a speed of 10, then we should plan on operating at a speed of like six, five or four. And this isn’t a season for productivity hacks or extreme hustle. It’s a season of maintaining and stabilizing as opposed to doing whatever we can to seek growth, which has maybe a mindset that we would have a year ago because the waters were smoother.

Bjork Ostrom: And what I mean by that is like imagine that you’re a speed boat, your business is a speed boat, you are a speed boat, whatever you’re working on is a speed boat, and over the past few years, really for an extended period of time, economically speaking at least, it’s been really smooth waters. Your boat can go pretty fast without any issues. So if any of you have been in a speedboat or gotten into a boat that can go fast, you know that if it’s smooth waters, you can go pretty fast and it’s fun and it feels good and you can cover a lot of ground. However, or not ground, cover a lot of water I suppose.

Bjork Ostrom: These past few weeks though, or these past few months depending on where you live, have introduced some pretty serious waves and the water is become choppy. And we need to take that speed of the boat down, in order to make sure that we make it through this stormy patch safely and get to the other side where there will be smooth waters again. And again, we don’t know when that will be or how long that will last. But what we do know and what I do know and what I’m confident around is that continuing to barrel forward at the same speed that we’re going before when we have these choppy waters is there’s more risk than there is reward in that.

Bjork Ostrom: And so it’s important for us to dial that speed back so we can cover the basics, so we can do those things that are so important for us foundationally as humans, to get through this patch of rough weather and rough waters, to get to that other side where maybe we can put the speed of the boat back up again. So that’s all about covering the basics. It’s one of the things that we’re thinking a lot about. How do we do that and how do we do that well? And it’s a mindset shift from even three months ago, four months ago, where we were thinking, “Hey, how do we grow? How do we do that really quickly?” Not that we give that up forever, but just this season. This is a season around stability and maintaining versus growing.

Bjork Ostrom: Number two, I think it’s important to take time to know thyself and know thy audience. And as publishers and as creators, there’s a question during this season of what does content look like? It feels like the only thing on somebody’s mind, and the only thing that we were talking about, and the only thing we’re thinking about is COVID–19. It’s Coronavirus. So as publishers and publishers in the food and recipe space, how do you go about doing that? And there’s questions that are coming in, like is it bad to write a post about Coronavirus or COVID–19? Should I just keep producing content and pretend like it’s not happening? Or if I mention it, how should I go about talking about it?

Bjork Ostrom: And I think it’s important to point out the fact that there isn’t a playbook for situations like this. We’ve never gone through it. And therefore, anyone who’s giving advice around this is doing so from their own understanding of the best way to respond to this from a content perspective. And that’s why this is one of the best times to know thyself and know thy audience. So as you think through it, what do you feel yourself drawn towards? Is it relates to the content that you’re producing? Maybe you feel like the world is already overwhelmed with news and content about COVID–19 and it feels like the best thing for you would be to put content into the world that gives people an escape from all of the noise, that feels like what would be right for you and it feels like the best way for you to create content. Great.

Bjork Ostrom: Or perhaps you’re someone who processes through this with your readers and you know that it would also help you process through things. And so you want to go about producing a piece of content and acknowledging it. Maybe you dedicate an entire post to talking about it, asking how people are doing. Great. Or maybe land somewhere in the middle and you’re in the camp of acknowledging the reality of the situation not pretending like it doesn’t exist, but sticking with your regular scheduled content. Great. I think it really depends on what feels comfortable to you as a content creator and also knowing your audience. What do you feel like your audience would want in terms of content from you? There isn’t an exact science, like I said, there isn’t a playbook, but I can share a little bit about how we’re approaching this with each one of the businesses that we have.

Bjork Ostrom: So on Pinch of Yum, Lindsay published a post recently and she talked about what it’s been like for us as a family, as how we’ve approached food. So she called it a COVID–19 Coffee Date (All About Food), and she talks about, as a family, does that look like for us? We need to eat, so how do we go about doing that? And she outlined some of the food that we have, some of the recipes we’re making, what’s in the freezer and just some high level strategies and some of the ways that we’re approaching food in this bizarre, strange, potentially scary time. And that was a conversation with people. There is comments. Lindsay responded to the comments and that there was a conversation around that and it was an opportunity for readers to engage with Lindsay and to talk about something that everybody was thinking about.

Bjork Ostrom: But if you look as of today, this is the beginning of the week. Here I’m recording this on March 23rd. The most recent two posts are standard recipe posts. They don’t include any mention of anything that’s happening and it’s back to regular scheduled content. So that’s what felt right for us as a team, for Lindsay to acknowledge it and then to go back to a regular scheduled content knowing that that regular schedule content is less of a conversation or real-time news. But it’s us saying, “Hey, this is, as a team what we were working on. These are the things that we need to continue doing,” because that’s what our business is, which is publishing recipes and so we are continuing with that regular scheduled content.

Bjork Ostrom: For our Food Blogger Pro, we haven’t done a dedicated piece of content other than this podcast, so this is the first dedicated piece of content that we’re doing, but we haven’t done a dedicated blog post on it. We haven’t done a dedicated live Q&A within the community on it. That stuff might come down the line. But in terms of the other published content that we’ve had, emails that have gone out, communication that we’ve had with people, we’ve gone with the acknowledge and then regular scheduled content approach.

Bjork Ostrom: So we want to make sure that we give people the kind of outlet to say, “We know we’re all thinking about this. This is on our minds. It is true for us. We’re guessing is true for you and just want to acknowledge that.” And it’s not going to keep us from doing what we need to do, which is support our members and support this community. So we’re going to continue producing new courses, we’re going to continue having a Q&A’s. That’s going to continue on. And there’s some stability in that knowing that hey, there’s going to be some element of chaos in the world, but we’re going to continue showing up here and we’re going to continue moving forward throughout this.

Bjork Ostrom: And then, with WP Tasty. So that’s a business where it’s being plugin-based, being software-based. There is some kind of light mention of it. Like if we have a communication, an email, we’ll say, “Hey, this has been a week that is an interesting, crazy week.” And so there’s acknowledgement of it, but we don’t have blog posts about it. We’re not mentioning it in of strategies around structured data or SEO or Pinterest or anything like that. So WP Tasty is probably the business that is the most quiet around Coronavirus and COVID–19. And there is no right or wrong way to approach that. It’s just a matter of you understanding who you are, who your business is and who your audience is. And that’s why it’s important to know thyself and to know thy audience and that will inform your content strategy around how much you mentioned this and what it looks like for you to mention this because there isn’t a playbook and I think it’s okay for you to know that you can build your own playbook.

Bjork Ostrom: Number three, beware of the disastertunity. And I’m sure that you’ve had endless email updates around COVID–19 and Coronavirus and some of them are PR-ish type updates from companies telling you what the approach is and how they’re handling continuing to pay employees if they need to cut back on time, or shut down, or just the stability of the business if it’s maybe a hosting company or something like that. But then there’s also on the end of taking advantage of people, if there is a scale of that between helping and taking advantage of people.

Bjork Ostrom: There’d be this thing that I would call the disastertunity. It actually comes from, it was a MacBreak Weekly podcast that I listened to. That was the episode name. But they talk about disastertunity being this thing where companies see a disaster as a chance for an opportunity to promote their company. And there’s a fine line between using what you have to help people in a pure and authentic way, and using what’s happening in the world as a business opportunity or disastertunity. And at the extreme end of the scale, it’s people hoarding hand sanitizer and charging ridiculous amounts for it.

Bjork Ostrom: But if you scale that up a little bit, there’s still a fine line between using this opportunity to tap into people’s fear, to get people to be motivated to make some decision that is advantageous for you purchasing something or buying something. And that’s where I think the fine line of disastertunity is. And I think it doesn’t mean that you’re not creating content around that. It doesn’t mean that you’re not having conversations around it. It’s not even that you aren’t promoting certain things that would help people. I think the key is that it bends much more towards helping in a pure and authentic way helping others versus helping your business.

Bjork Ostrom: And if anything, I think during this time, if you do have these COVID–19 Coronavirus related products or blog posts that it should bend towards, maybe stinging, hurting you a little bit in order to help other people more. That’s not a blanket statement. It’s not true across the board, but it’s an encouragement to people who are thinking about ways that they can promote their own thing during this time to bend as much as you can towards helping others versus helping yourself, which I would consider a disastertunity and less as an opportunity to help people.

Bjork Ostrom: So just a concept to think about, to be aware of, if you notice yourself processing through, hey, what are the ways that maybe it could create more income for my site from this? I think do whatever you can to switch that thought process to, hey, what are the things that I can do to help people during this time? And that does exist. And especially for us as people who create content around food, around recipes, we’re able to help people in a time that they are uniquely in need of understanding how to cook at home, or cook for their family, or meal prep. Those are all things that we as content creators can do to help people.

Bjork Ostrom: There is a middle school teacher who wrote a note and I share this because for every note that we get like this, there are 10 or 100 experiences like this that exist in the world for us in general as creators. And so this is a story that we are sharing so you can know that these types of things are happening with the content that you’re putting into the world. And this was a middle school teacher who wrote in and said that she had shared a couple of weeks ago the recipe for a no-knead bread on Pinch of Yum and they had made it in class and she said that she started to hear from a lot of her students who came from low income families that they were using this recipe and the students were teaching their families how to make this no-knead bread, which was affordable. They could make it in batch. And she said that it was literally feeding these families in this time of crisis.

Bjork Ostrom: And the things that you are creating in the world are doing that. And so I think it’s a good reminder for us that we can see numbers. It might be 10 people or a 100 people or 1,000 people who are coming to look at our content during this time. But the reason they’re doing that is because they need to make food. They need a recipe and they’re using your content to do that. And it’s helping people in a real and authentic way. And my challenge for us as creators, if we have the bandwidth for it, is to think about additional ways to do that. How can you be doing that even more, helping people making those resources more easily available?

Bjork Ostrom: Maybe it’s something as simple as doing email roundup and giving the recipes that are the best rated and easiest to make or with the fewest number of ingredients and sending out an email to your readers and saying, “We’ve been thinking a lot about people. We want to make sure that you have access to the easiest recipes possible that are also going to be successful and want to point those out to you.” So it can be something simple like that. So that is number three, be aware the disastertunity, or if you flip that to a positive, it would be seek the opportunities to help as opposed to just avoiding disastertunities.

Bjork Ostrom: And then number four, I think this is really important and a good note to end on is to be gentle. I think it’s important, number one, to be gentle with yourself. As you know, what we are doing is hard and it’s much, much harder in a season like this. It’s a struggle even when things are going really well and there’s not a global pandemic. Even more so when there is a season of stress, and anxiety, and seeming chaos unfolding around us. And so it’s important to be gentle with yourself and know that it’s a difficult season. It’s a heavy season. We have friends. I just had a conversation with a friend this morning who is an extreme extrovert and also is outspoken in dealing with depression and he said, “It’s just been really hard. This has been a really hard season because I’m isolating, I’m staying at home and yet I’m an extrovert and it hurts to be at home.” And there’s this depression that he’s having to deal with.

Bjork Ostrom: And isolating at home is a really difficult a way for him to live and to operate. And if you have, it could be an entire spectrum of that. Maybe you’re just down or maybe you’re feeling like you had good progress and now it’s taken away, or maybe you see some certain metrics changing, or you need to now stay at home for the next few weeks and care for your kids instead of working on the thing that you were working on. We can be hard on ourselves for that and try and fit it in and try and do more than we are capable of doing. And I would encourage you to be gentle with yourself and know that this is a season, it’s not forever, it’s not the new reality and to go forth in this season, being gentle with yourself.

Bjork Ostrom: I think it’s also important for us to be gentle with others. And there was a great Jon Acuff quote that I saw. John was on the podcast, episode 86. You can go to foodbloggerpro.com/86. But John talked about this. This was on his Instagram account, I think it was a screen capture from his Twitter, but he said, “I’m being extra for giving to people who say or do things that are tone deaf right now. Why?”… And he gave three reasons. Number one, it’s the first global pandemic most people have experienced. Of course, they suck at it. Number two, people make more mistakes when they’re afraid. And number three, I’ll make a mistake and need grace too. And I think it’s a season where it’s important for us to be gentle with others. And people might say things or do things that are really frustrating or hard for us, whether that be related to politics or their actions or our actions and speaking into those. But as much as possible, I think we should try and be gentle with ourselves in this season and also gentle with others.

Bjork Ostrom: So those are the four things that I’ve been thinking about, that we’ve been thinking about here with our family, and that we’ve been thinking about with our businesses. Quick little recap. Number one, cover the basics, make sure that you’re getting sleep, eating healthy food if it’s available, drinking lots of water, connecting with family and friends digitally, and then also taking time away from the computer. Know thyself and know thy audience as it relates to the content that you’re producing. Check in with yourself, see how it feels to maybe not mention it or talk about it too much or what does it look like if there’s a hybrid there. And also think about your audience. Do you have any sense for what they need? Let that inform the content that you’re producing as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Number three, be aware of the disastertunity. so be careful about taking this as an opportunity to just grow your business, or grow traffic, or create more income and think instead, what are the ways that I can serve people in need? And it might hurt even a little bit. I would encourage you to lean into that and think through that. And more than anything is just a great word to say disastertunity. Number four and the final one, be gentle with yourself and with others. So those are the thoughts that I want to leave you with. Know that we feel this, we hope that you have… That’s my daughter in the background screaming hello if you heard that.

Bjork Ostrom: Know that we feel this. We are literally there with you quarantining at home and we will get through this and I would encourage you to think about ways that not only that you can think about how do we get through this, but how do we help other people get through this and we’ll come out the other side and we’ll continue to match forward. Thanks for listening to this podcast. I appreciate you and hope that someday when we come out of quarantine, when we’re not isolating in the same way, that we can connect in person, and I look forward to that day. Until next week, stay safe and we will be in touch. Make it a great week. Thanks.

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